Tuesday, October 09, 2007

jobs Americans *will* do

Daniel Gross reports on a new source of labor for struggling apple growers:

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a poignant article (subscription required) about anguished fruit farmers in California. Because of a crackdown on illegal immigrants, they couldn't find workers willing to pick their pears, even at $150 per day. And as a result, perfectly good fruit rotted in the fields.

Perhaps the California farmers, who depend on migrant Mexican labor, have got the wrong business model. Instead of paying workers to pick their fruit, they should try another strategy: making customers pay to pick the fruit themselves. Savvy farmers all over the country have discovered a practice that might not work as a nationwide agricultural policy, but that has allowed some economically inefficient orchards to thrive: Encourage yuppies and their progeny to come pick your fruit—they'll pay handsomely for the privilege, buy more than they'd ordinarily consume, and then shell out for all sorts of other value-added products. It's the best use of child labor since Manchester's early 19th-century textile mills.

Gross writes tongue-in-cheek, but these orchards are no longer economically inefficient; they are providing a valuable product to yuppies up and down the Eastern seaboard. The product is not just the apples—it is also the experience of picking the apples. These orchards are more efficient than most “productive,” highly-subsidized traditional farms.

Although I wouldn't be surprised if these enterprising apple growers are pulling down their share of subsidies, too.

Via Ezra Klein.

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